Shackelford: Roasted Quail - Overcooked redesign seared joy out of PGA

Rob Schumacher/USA TODAY Sports

Shackelford: Roasted Quail - Overcooked redesign seared joy out of PGA

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Shackelford: Roasted Quail - Overcooked redesign seared joy out of PGA

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – As the sun set on Friday’s storm-delayed PGA Championship, Rod Pampling gave his last tee shot a modified Happy Gilmore action so he could quickly and half-heartedly put a ball in play. This allowed his struggling group to finish a miserable second round. Playing partner J.B. Holmes even could be seen applauding what was, by any definition, conduct unbecoming a professional. 

The message was clear: anything not to return. 

Elsewhere on a cynically redesigned 7,600-yard Quail Hollow course once beloved by PGA Tour players, struggling groups of players took evasive action to finish rounds. 

Anything to get out of town.

Some of this was the usual rushing by players who do not want to get up at 4:30 a.m. just to finish a hole or two. But the overall looseness of the proceedings at a major championship sent an unexpected message of extreme apathy. 

After all, this is an immaculately conditioned golf course by superintendent Keith Wood and crew, one so purely conditioned that the average Tour professional normally would look past quibbles out of gratitude for such perfect turf. This is also the same Quail Hollow known for treating players like kings, with a legendary food spread, an unfettered entrance that lets contestants arrive in peace and world-class practice facilities. You’ll also encounter some of the nicest fans and volunteers imaginable.

And they could not wait to leave a course they once raved about as a top-5 PGA Tour venue. What happened? 

Too much tinkering. Too much green speed. Too many hole locations on spots. And in a fun twist, too many refined design and setup expectations from the modern player.

“This is not the Quail Hollow we have gotten to know over the last 10 years,” Rory McIlroy said. “It’s a completely different golf course. Even if they didn’t do anything else with the golf course and just changed it to full Bermuda, like it is now, all of a sudden it makes the golf course two shots more difficult.”

All week player comments came in coded language similar to McIlroy’s, in spite of the spectacular turfgrass. Yet when elite players sense changes are made to take away their ability to attack, they resist compliments, no matter how perfect the fairway lies or the food spreads. 

Then there was a sense the design was just off. With 400 more yards on the course, Quail Hollow lost some of the walk-in-the-park charm they knew from its days hosting the Wachovia and then the Wells Fargo. Couple this with a dreary set of par 3s lacking yardage variety and you had the inner design geek in every player refusing to rubber-stamp the Tom Fazio and Tom Marzolf’s renovation. 

Matters were not helped by a setup that featured greens much faster than the PGA of America’s Kerry Haigh has ever allowed. The Stimpmeter readings, once again unpublished by the PGA to discourage the chase for speed, clearly exceeded 14 and appeared to be a product of Quail Hollow’s Johnny Harris wanting to mimic his beloved Augusta National.

For the first three rounds, Haigh gave players exceedingly tough locations. Multiple competitors felt the cups were placed on ridges and slopes much steeper than was necessary. Putts could be seen nosediving at the hole. Never a good look. 

Their gripes were vindicated when Haigh’s Sunday setup found all of the right spots receptive to shots. It resembled the golf course we were promised when Quail Hollow was awarded a major. Such thinking, which puts the emphasis on giving the players a chance to shine, needs to be the driving principle for the next time the world’s best come to town.

(Note: This story appears in the Aug. 14, 2017 issue of Golfweek.)

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